America's National Monuments
The Politics of Preservation
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Chapter 6:
Second-Class Sites

THE CREATION OF THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE (NPS) did little to alleviate the dismal conditions at most national monuments. The new agency had minimal resources and vast responsibility. The parks were its focus, and in the scheme of the fledgling agency, the monuments were mere complements to spectacular places like Yellowstone and Yosemite. During the late 1910s and early 1920s, political realities and the view of the leaders of the NPS made national monuments into second-class areas. Tourism became the raison d'etre for the national parks, but the monuments were inaccessible and undeveloped, and most remained unsuitable for extensive visitation. Special-interest groups such as American scientists continued to propose various uses for areas set aside as national monuments, but no coherent sense of purpose emerged, and the suggestions failed to ameliorate the predicament of the monuments. Guarded almost exclusively by a loose-knit group of volunteers, the monument designation became a holding category. With support from the NPS, Congress regularly promoted the most important monuments to park status. The remainder were left outside of the vision that Stephen T. Mather and Horace M. Albright had developed for the agency.

As the first director of the Park Service, Mather embarked upon a broad and extensive program to ensure that the most awe-inspiring scenic places in the nation were reserved as national parks. His work reaped immediate dividends. As conditions in the national parks improved, Mather and his new agency developed a following among the public and a contingent of vocal supporters in Congress. By the time he retired because of his health in January 1929, the park system contained six new national parks, including five created from former national monuments: Sieur de Monts, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Carlsbad Cave. The removal of the most visually spectacular of the monuments to the park category blunted the scenic dimension of the monument category. During Mather's tenure, Congress also authorized three additional parks—Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, and Mammoth Cave—east of the Mississippi River, all the result of Mather's and Albright's vision of an agency with national scope. [1]

An important offshoot of Mather's development-oriented administration was the emergence of a system of concessions and accommodations. Before 1915 concessions in the national parks were a fiasco. Predatory hucksters competed for the attention of rail travelers, making grand and usually false promises. The food in the parks was dismal. During Albright's inspection of Yellowstone in 1915, twenty cases of ptomaine poisoning occurred. Mather advocated regulated monopolies in the parks and began to standardize accommodations. With quality as his objective, he initiated programs designed to offer visitors a range of economical services. As assistant to the secretary of the interior in 1915, he arranged for the railroads that served Yellowstone to allow visitors to combine their tickets, so that visitors could enter the park on one railroad through one gate and leave by another, on a different line, without paying an additional charge. Mather was determined to make the national parks into serious competitors for the attention of the American traveler. He wanted his visitors to be comfortable, often repeating his adage that "scenery is a hollow enjoyment to a tourist who sets out in the morning after an indigestible breakfast and a fitful sleep on an impossible bed." [2]

Mather also developed the "pragmatic alliance" between the railroads and the national parks. The link between American railroads and the national parks dated from the establishment of Yellowstone, which had been supported by Jay Cooke and the Northern Pacific Railroad. Early in the twentieth century, railroad entrepreneurs like Louis W. Hill, of the Great Northern Railway, began to see the parks as a boost to their business. Mather joined with such people, and facilities rapidly improved. [3] After the implementation of Mather's plans, record numbers of visitors flocked to the national parks. Western railroads such as the AT&SF, the Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG), and Hill's Great Northern carried visitors all over the West. Visitors found comfortable beds and food that did not incapacitate them.

But the parks still did not have competitive status as tourist attractions, and Mather continued to initiate plans to speed their development. After some cajoling, Robert Sterling Yard, Mather's friend from his days at the New York Sun, joined the Department of the Interior. Yard orchestrated a massive publicity campaign that culminated in the printing of the National Parks Portfolio, an oversize folio that contained large pictures of the best scenery in the national parks. Places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and Glacier National Park were the flagship areas, and the agency promoted them accordingly.

In contrast, the national monuments did not have a clearly defined place in Mather's and Albright's plans. Congress also ignored the monuments. The original NPS appropriation of $3,500 averaged out to $120 for each of the twenty-four monuments of the Department of the Interior. There was no money for salaries. Volunteers had to run each area. With the exception of places with national park potential, such as Grand Canyon and Zion national monuments, the promotional work of the agency also passed over the monuments. Most monuments with natural features were neither as spectacular nor as large as the leading national parks. They reflected comparatively little of the grandeur of the West. As a result, whatever identity the monument category had came from its archaeological component. But archaeology had only specialized appeal. Mather was primarily an advocate of inspirational scenery, and he did not believe that promoting prehistoric sites would help to develop the system.

The rising popularity of the parks also meant that there were more visitors at national monuments, which remained ill-prepared for tourist traffic. Railroads took people within striking distance of the national parks, and as the automobile began to encroach upon the American West, many of the national monuments in the Southwest experienced sizable increases in the number of visitors. By the early 1920s some monuments located along major thoroughfares, such as Papago Saguaro and the petrified Forest, entertained more than 50,000 visitors a year. Their newly found popularity was a problem. Although publicity and technology brought more people to the national monuments, the Park Service lacked the means to protect the areas. Accessibility meant a significant human impact even upon places that were once sufficiently protected by GLO special agents visiting once a year. Areas that had not been well served by that system were in even greater danger.

The early programs of the Park Service inadvertently placed the majority of the national monuments in an inferior position. Lacking money and workpower, the agency did little to prepare these areas for the new influx of tourists. The parks and monuments were not "as alike as two peas in a pod," as Bond had suggested in 1911. Scenic monumentalism was what the parks epitomized; by rail and auto, Americans swarmed to see these spectacular sites in the late 1910s and 1920s. [4] The majority of the national monuments, however, contained features other than postcard scenery. When the agency established its priorities, the development of the monuments was largely left out.

The ambiguity of the definition of the national monuments affected the protection of the areas included in that category. It became impossible to speak of the national monuments as a cohesive category. Many monuments preserved for natural values lacked the features that characterized the important national parks. At the same time, these places had little in common with the archaeological reserves that formed the core of the category. Despite the preponderance of natural areas, the educational and scientific communities agreed with W. J. Lewis, a GLO special agent, who believed that the monuments were "reserved for scientific, historic and other educational purposes." [5] Historic, archaeological, and natural areas had few common values and fewer shared problems. Generalizations about the needs of the national monuments simply did not hold true.

The greatest obstacle to the development of the national monuments was that they had no clear purpose comparable to that of the national parks. Under Mather, the parks became the pinnacle of western tourism, and in May 1918 Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane spelled out the criteria for administering the national parks. [6] There was no such clarity about the existence of the monuments. The ease with which they could be established ensured that the monuments defied categorization. Some had obvious potential as tourist sites. Others were so remote or obscure that visitation was beside the point. Nor were there evident standards for entry into the monument category. Many were consolation prizes, proclaimed as a favor to a member of Congress or to a special-interest group after the failure of a bill to establish a national park. Others were established as the result of public pressure on a representative, senator, the Department of the Interior, or the National Park Service. The monuments were simply a hodgepodge the catchall category of federally held park areas. The NPS brought no more coherence to the national monuments than existed prior to its founding.

Scientists were the most important supporters of the national monuments. The diversity that hindered the administration of the category enhanced its appeal to a wide range of specialists. Archaeologists and anthropologists were the first to exert their influence, but after most of the important prehistoric ruins in the public domain became national monuments, the dialogue between archaeologists and the Department of the Interior stabilized. Natural scientists followed the lead of the archaeological community. They had a particular stake in the administration of the category and were eager to implement their programs among the monuments. But the goals of the scientific community differed from those of the Park Service. Tourism was never high on the scientific agenda, and the objectives of scientists were often at odds with what Mather envisioned for the park system.

The advent of extensive western and southwestern tourism created problems for preservationists, and archaeological sites became the first point of contention. The national parks were staffed, and the NPS could keep track of visitors there. But isolated monuments, particularly those with archaeological ruins, were susceptible to vandalism. Pothunting remained a cottage industry in the Southwest, and visitors who unthinkingly walked off with surface artifacts compounded the damage of vandals. The archaeological community sought monument status for archaeological ruins as a way to create legal sanctions against pothunting and destruction. Archaeologists wanted to discourage visitation at unsupervised archaeological ruins, but Park Service officials believed that the only way to build support was to encourage travelers. Mather's priorities won; as the volume of visitation grew, archaeologists rushed to excavate.

Ironically, the archaeologists who hurried to dig sites found themselves crowded out by the general public. During the first decade of the twentieth century, few besides archaeologists, sheepherders, and vandals had been interested in archaeological ruins in the Southwest. But by 1920 people were seeking out remote places. They carried away artifacts in their cars, and many carved their names into the walls of prehistoric ruins. Archaeologists often arrived at sites after the public had defaced them. The scientists who had fought against government restriction in 1909 pleaded for it in 1919.

The natural areas in the monument category were a coveted prize, and natural scientists in the government wanted to implement their programs in these areas. Staff members from the U.S. Biological Survey advocated using the monuments as wildlife sanctuaries. Ample precedent existed for this view. Theodore Roosevelt had referred to the Grand Canyon and Mount Olympus as important "wildlife preserves," and the Forest Service treated some of its remote monuments as game preserves. But if the monuments became wildlife refuges, there were obvious consequences for Mather's vision of the park system. This issue came to the fore in January 1917, at the fourth National Parks Conference, when Dr. T. S. "Tombstone" Palmer of the U.S. Biological Survey became an outspoken proponent of the idea that the national monuments were most useful as a refuge for wild animals.

Palmer sought to clarify the confused position of the national monuments by establishing a system of classification that ascribed a comprehensive purpose to the category. "The existence of some of the most interesting reservations is scarcely known to the public," the thin and bespectacled Palmer told the packed audience in the auditorium of the new National Museum in Washington, D.C. "Much less has the tourist or casual visitor a clear idea of what constitutes a national monument, of the diverse character of monuments, or of the distinction between a national monument and a national park." He offered more sophisticated classifications that focused on the value of some monuments as wildlife preserves.

What made national monuments valuable as wildlife sanctuaries was exactly what made them controversial in the first place: they encompassed areas of land large enough to allow animals to live and breed, unimpeded by humanity. Six of the eight monuments that Palmer thought had potential as wildlife reserves were in excess of 1,000 acres: the Grand Canyon, Mount Olympus, Pinnacles in California, Colorado National Monument, Papago Saguaro, and Sieur de Monts. Only two, Muir Woods and El Morro, were less than that size. In the view of this important government biologist, these eight monuments could serve as animal habitats in lieu of wild land.

Palmer's proposal inadvertently challenged the priorities Mather had established for the NPS. His ideas amounted to an unconscious attempt to resurrect the scientific designation of the Antiquities Act, something the emphasis on tourism had overwhelmed. Mather saw scenery as the primary value of natural areas, but seven of the eight areas with the potential to serve as wildlife refuges were included in natural monuments. They could not serve Mather's and Palmer's ends simultaneously.

Yet Palmer's perspective forced an analysis of the monument issue. He gave new significance to many previously ignored monuments. The Pinnacles National Monument, which Bond called unimportant in 1911, was critical in Palmer's view, because it had become one of the last breeding places of the California condor. Papago Saguaro, between Tempe and Phoenix, housed giant cacti; the saguaro, for which the monument was named, was the natural home of the elf owl, the gilded flicker, and the Arizona woodpecker as well as a many other desert birds. But before Palmer's presentation the Park Service regarded Papago Saguaro, Pinnacles, and their counterparts as minimally important.

To dramatize his point, Palmer noted that even the Grand Canyon had potential as a wildlife reserve. The 806,400-acre monument went a long way towards protecting various kinds of wildlife from the increasing activity at the trailheads and along the rims of the canyon. People had access to only a few thousand acres at the Grand Canyon National Monument. There were hundreds of thousands of acres more suited to animals, providing the kind of inaccessibility that sheltered wild creatures from the focus of American travelers. The steep canyon walls "furnish[ed] a safe retreat for mountain sheep," a species that Palmer contended was numerous in the Grand Canyon. Smaller mammals and birds were also prevalent in the Grand Canyon, Palmer noted, "for the rugged walls naturally discourage and prevent pursuit."

On the cutting edge of modern biological science, Palmer revealed an environmental awareness that foreshadowed the development of modern ecological science. Yet he had to nod in the direction Mather and Albright led the Park Service if he was to have any impact upon agency policy. His view of Muir Woods as the "most accessible point at which to observe the [redwood] tree amid it [sic] natural surroundings" put him on a parallel track with Mather and the Park Service. But Palmer saw Muir Woods as a complete biota, the value of which lay not only in the preservation of redwoods, but in "all those species of plants, birds and other animals which find their native habitat in the peculiar conditions under which the redwood thrives." Scientists could study the interworkings of the natural world at Muir Woods. To that end, Palmer suggested that scientific and ornithological groups closely monitor the site, so that visitors could also "check up on the observations and perchance add to the records of the occurrence of rare species. [7]

In this respect, Palmer's foresight was limited. He did not envision the vast numbers of people that would come to places like Muir Woods, nor did he consider that unsupervised visitors, particularly those encouraged to watch rare species closely, might not share his reverence for wildlife. As visitation increased and the Park Service made its areas more accessible, the value of some of the monuments as wildlife refuges became dubious. Muir Woods could not have been much of a habitat the day after the San Francisco Examiner held its annual picnic with 9,000 guests there in 1920. [8] Despite Palmer's attempt to reconcile different functions, scientific use of the monuments in the way that Palmer envisioned remained incompatible with the vision of the NPS.

Palmer tried to give the monuments an identity of their own, but his proposal highlighted the weakness of this diverse category. He represented natural scientists, a special-interest group with its own agenda. Palmer's suggestions offered an unwieldy compromise that blurred the distinction between the wildlife monuments and the national parks. A place like Muir Woods or El Morro had value as a habitat only as long as few people visited it. In fact, the idea of promoting scientific study as a way to encourage tourism spelled disaster for the monuments. In their rush to see what the scientists and public relations people promoted, visitors inadvertently destroyed the very things they came to find.

In 1917 Palmer was the one person with a thorough understanding of the national monuments. His suggestions cut across the artificial boundaries established by the Antiquities Act and highlighted many of the same problems Frank Bond had seen earlier in the decade. Palmer stressed the issues that plagued the development of the national monuments for the coming decades. His entire presentation emanated from the fact that there was not clearly defined purpose for the monuments, which allowed him to make a new suggestion. His idea did not resolve the problem, but it did bring it to the attention of the Park Service.

Maintenance and protection of the national parks and monuments were critical issues in 1917. Mather began to take care of the parks, but a system of care for the monuments had still not been developed. Palmer pointed out that if the monuments received no protection, the qualities that inspired the reservation of the areas would deteriorate as more people visited. No matter what purpose finally emerged as primary, if the various monuments were destroyed in the interim, the reason for preserving them would disappear as well.

As usual, other issues closer to Mather's priorities overshadowed national monument questions. As the preeminent item in his program was to include the very best and most spectacular sites in the West among the national parks, Stephen T. Mather sought to convince Congress to make the Grand Canyon a national park. In 1917 the park conference focused on the status of the Grand Canyon. It was more important to the agency than all of the other national monuments combined. Mather, Secretary of Agriculture David F. Houston, and much of Congress agreed that the Grand Canyon deserved park status, and visitation figures bore this out. In 1915, 116,027 people visited the Grand Canyon, 6,415 more visitors than the combined totals of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier national parks for that year, and an astronomical increase from the 813 visitors recorded in 1900.

The Grand Canyon was not the first national monument that Mather coveted and subsequently acquired as a national park. The precedent for changing the status of a site dated from 1916, when Congress created Lassen Volcanic National Park from two national monuments administered by the Forest Service. On the same day he signed the Grand Canyon National Park into law, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill making Sieur de Monts, the first Park Service area east of the Mississippi River, into Lafayette (now called Acadia) National Park. During Mather's years at the head of the National Park Service, Zion and Bryce Canyon followed, and the agency laid the groundwork for the transformation of the Carlsbad Cave National Monument to national park status.

The monument selected for park status contained the kind of scenery that characterized the national parks, but they often had to be altered to differentiate them from the remainder of the monuments. In order not to taint the park category with the second-class stigma of the monuments, areas that the agency wanted to transfer had to resemble existing parks more than the remaining monuments. Initially designated as scientific national monuments, these "way-station monuments" had been established because of their scenic value, but making them parallel to the national parks often required manipulation. Because the Antiquities Act limited national monuments to the smallest area that allowed effective management, most of the monuments were small areas. In contrast, western national parks were perceived as vast. At least in the West, the small size of most monuments doomed them to monument status. Enlarging a way-station monument became an important way to differentiate it from the areas left behind in the monument category.

By the late 1910s, Mather began to develop a strategy for the Southwest, with particular emphasis on the Four Corners area, where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah come together. [9] The Grand Canyon was the jewel of the nation, and Mather envisioned a network of park areas connected by roads to bring American motorists to the region in droves. The beautiful scenery of the Southwest appealed to Mather and Albright, at the same time that sparse settlement and the inhospitable climate meant that few people contested the development of park areas. The Grand Canyon was Mather's pinnacle, but as more Americans began to own automobiles, he also wanted to have national parks within driving distance along the dusty western roads.

Mather first looked for new southwestern national parks in the monument category, and the remote Mukuntuweap National Monument in southern Utah became one target of his vision. Mukuntuweap centered around Little Zion Canyon in the southwest corner of the state. There were few roads and fewer people in the region, and the railroads that traversed the area, including the Union Pacific and the D&RG, had difficulty finding passengers. When the monument was established in 1909, there had been little need to protect the site. As late as 1914, G. E. Hair, the division chief of the GLO in Salt Lake City, remarked that "were it not so far from railroads and the main travelled highways of the state, the number of tourists would have been greater than [the estimated three hundred]." Two years later Hair's subordinate T. E. Hunt commented: "It would be difficult for anyone to injure, deface or carry away anything pertaining to the principle features of this monument. . . . No supervision whatever is exercised over this reservation and little seems necessary at the present time" [10] The monument was established in advance of need.

During the 1910s, railroads began to promote travel in southern Utah, and activities in the Mukuntuweap area gained momentum. By 1917 W. W. Wylie, the originator of the "Wylie Way" system of camping in Yellowstone, opened tourist camps in Little Zion Canyon, the heart of the monument. Utah senator Reed Smoot engineered a $15,000 appropriation for road improvement at the Mukuntuweap monument, far outstripping the budget of the other twenty-three Department of the Interior national monuments that year. The NPS also became aware of the value of Zion Canyon. Director Mather mentioned the region as a possible "all year round resort." [11]

Compared to the size of most of the scenic national parks, Mukuntuweap was a small area. Road improvements made the monument accessible, but transforming its status required further work. On 18 March 1918 Woodrow Wilson enlarged the monument to 76,840 acres, five times its original size, and changed its name from Mukuntuweap to the more manageable Zion. The name change played to a prevalent bias of the time. Many believed that Spanish and Indian names would deter visitors who, if they could not pronounce the name of a place, might not bother to visit it. [12] The new name, Zion, had greater appeal to an ethnocentric audience. With its spectacular scenery and larger size, Zion resembled the other national parks more than the remaining monuments.

Woodrow Wilson's enlargement followed the precedent set by Theodore Roosevelt, but it represented a departure from most of Wilson's actions in land policy. His earlier efforts were directed toward appeasing special interests that wanted to make use of reserved portions of the public domain. In 1913 Wilson signed the Hetch-Hetchy bill. In 1915 he halved the Mount Olympus National Monument to accommodate mining interests, and two years later, he allowed sheep to graze temporarily in Yosemite.

Wilson's reversal revealed that Zion was clearly being groomed for higher status. The addition to Mukuntuweap/Zion made it larger by almost 120 square miles. Although still noticeably smaller than Yosemite, to which it was often compared the combination of its spectacular scenery, increased size, and change of name made Zion worthy of consideration for national park status. In addition, the road appropriation was the first money Congress provided for any individual monument, a clear indication that Mather and Albright wanted Zion in the park category. Their objectives became more obvious when the agency banned firearms in the monument, resulting in a noticeable increase in the deer population. The Park Service also paid to fence the canyon mouth to prevent grazing, and "a marked improvement was manifest to all in the richness of the splendid canyon's appearance." [13]

The attention that Washington, D.C., lavished upon the Zion National Monument confirmed that the Park Service sought its conversion to national park status. Stephen Mather was certainly a strong proponent. During his first visit in 1918, he pronounced Zion Canyon "national park material of the first order." [14] Despite poor state roads, travel restrictions imposed by the government during the First World War, and the influenza pandemic of 1918, all of which cut deeply into the number of visitors during the 1918-19 travel season, Congress established Zion National Park on 19 November 1919.

Mather's enthusiasm for the southern Utah area also resulted in the rapid conversion of the Bryce Canyon National Monument to national park status. Albright visited the area in 1917 and told Mather of its beauty. Two years later Mather and a carload of friends, including a Salt Lake City banker named Lafayette Hanchett, drove for two and one-half days across dismal state roads to Panguitch, about eighteen miles from Bryce Canyon. Mather was astonished to find that more than half the people he talked to in Panguitch had never been to the canyon. When he and his friends drove the remaining miles the following day, Mather found out why. The "road" was little more than an animal trail. But the rigor of the trip did not detract from the spectacular view that the travelers found. As the car arrived, Hanchett, who had seen the canyon, had Mather close his eyes. When they reached the brink of the canyon, Mather opened his eyes and "let go with a fine burst of Mather enthusiasm." The eventual park status of the area was assured at that moment. [15]

Converting desire into reality was a tricky proposition, and Mather used the USFS and the Union Pacific Railroad to achieve his ends. In 1923 a national monument was established at Bryce Canyon. The Forest Service retained administrative control of the area because the monument was carved from national forest land. The proclamation declared the monument as the dominant use of the tract, but that meant little. The administrators of the Powell National Forest, which contained the monuments, were allowed to use Bryce Canyon for the same purposes as the rest of the forest. The following year, Utah senator Reed Smoot, an important ally of the Park Service, convinced Congress to authorize the area as a national parks, subject to the acquisition of private lands within its boundaries. Mather refused to assume responsibility for the new park until the Union Pacific Railroad exchanged its holdings in the area for other federal lands. Upon completion of the transaction in 1928, Bryce Canyon joined the national park category.

In the Southwest, it appeared that the quickest way to secure park status for a region was first to proclaim it as a national monument. The monument designation safeguarded the area from land claims, and the NPS simply awaited the best opportunity for conversion. Always a small area, Bryce Canyon did not threaten local interests. It had little commercial value to timber and livestock interests. Its exquisite scenery, often described as "Yosemite in Grand Canyon colors," ensured its eventual status. The establishment of Bryce Canyon as a national monument, even under the administration of the USFS, was only a prelude to its conversion to park status.

Mather saw the remaining national monuments in the Southwest quite differently. Most were inconsequential to his goals. Places like Natural Bridges and Rainbow Bridge in southern Utah were simply too far from existing roads and rails. Capulin Mountain, an extinct volcano in northeastern New Mexico, and others like it did not contain the kind of features that the Park Service generally promoted. As a result, while the areas made over into parks basked in considerable attention, the remaining monuments languished.


America's National Monuments: The Politics of Preservation
©1989, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
©1994, University Press of Kansas
All rights reserved by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

rothman/chap6.htm — 04-Feb-2005

Copyright © 1989 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Material from this edition published by the University Press of Kansas by arrangement with the University of Illinois Press and may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author and the University of Illinois Press.